Customs Amendment (Anti-dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 3) 2012
Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (18:11): I am so glad to follow the member for Kingston, who was worried about the growing influence of the National Party. She should be. The Nationals stand for fairness; we stand for farmers; we stand for regional Australia—
Mr Neumann: Except in Queensland!
Mr McCORMACK: and there cannot be anything wrong with that. I can hear the member for Blair crying out. He claims to represent a regional electorate.
Mr Neumann interjecting—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): He will stop interjecting, please.
Mr McCORMACK: He knows full well exactly what the Nationals stand for. As I say, it is for fairness, for farmers, for regional Australia and for so many other things. Hopefully, after the next election the Nationals will form government in alliance with our coalition partners. Warren Truss, the member for Wide Bay, will make a fine Deputy Prime Minister and the member for Cowper, who sits at the table, will do all he can to improve regional telecommunications, which have been so terribly pulled apart by this Labor government.
The Customs Amendment (Anti-Dumping Improvements) Bill (No. 3) 2012 is the last in a series of bills aimed at improving Australia's antidumping system. The uncontroversial changes contained therein address some of the many concerns held by those the bill affects. I refer to the overall unworkability of Australia's present antidumping arrangements. The current system is dreadfully convoluted and accessing the system can be costly and onerous. Concerns about antidumping are shared by coalition members and therefore these suggested improvements are supported. I do wish to note, however, what I believe are some very valid points and also bring to the attention of the House a deeply disturbing daily event occurring right now in my Riverina electorate, which has its genesis, in many ways, in foreign dumping practices that are to the detriment of our nation.
Antidumping regimes allow countries to act against overseas manufacturers and producers seeking to export a product or good who try to export into their markets at a price which is either less than the price it charges in its home market or than its cost of production. Obviously, there are several complexities relating to administering and implementing any antidumping regulatory system. There has been much angst and considerable frustration recently in Australia with the lack of timeliness and efficiency of the investigation processes which have taken place in Customs. Substantial costs have been imposed on businesses wishing to put forward cases for consideration. Our system, rather annoyingly and uncooperatively, typically places a far heavier onus on local industries than on their foreign competitors. Concerns abound about the Labor government's unwillingness to genuinely increase resources within Customs as well as about its decision to finance its changes via cost shifting.
The Minister for Home Affairs recognises that administrative responsibility for antidumping needs to be moved from Customs and that such action should be initiated, something his predecessor, the member for Gorton, disagreed with. This was, in fact, a coalition proposal, and a good one it seems from the minister's tacit acknowledgement. The coalition's antidumping policy was announced on 7 November last year following extensive consultation with a range of key players by a dedicated four-strong frontbench committee including the shadow minister for agriculture and food security.
Labor's introduction of this bill follows its own set of revisions to existing arrangements and was announced in June 2011 after pressure was brought to bear, especially from this side of politics as well as industry bodies and businesses.
During the winter parliamentary recess I took the opportunity, as I often do when I am not in Canberra, to meet with Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area citrus and wine grape growers. They are dreadfully concerned about the state of things at the moment. Whilst I appreciate there are world trade agreements to which this parliament and this nation steadfastly adheres, we are in many ways cruelling our own. One of the ways we are hurting our own farmers and local industries is, as I stated earlier, by having antidumping regimes which could be construed as favouring foreign imports.
At Griffith and Leeton these days—every day—they are dumping fruit by the truckload. It is a terrible sight—piteous. As if ongoing concern about water availability is not a large enough millstone around their necks, embattled citrus growers are being forced to dump fruit at record levels as everything, it seems, is conspiring against them this season.
The usually frenetic frantic navel season has come to a shuddering halt, with growers leaving oranges to rot on trees and packing sheds dumping hundreds of tonnes a week in local paddocks for cattle feed. Let us call a spade a spade; it is dumping. A rising tide of cheap imports, aggravated by the high Australian dollar, is allowing juice companies to offer as little as $25 a tonne for navels, while the fruit is selling for as low as $4 a box in city markets.
This is the worst the dumping has ever been in the history of the local industry …
That is what Tharbogang grower John Sergi recently told Griffith's newspaper The Area News. The report says: The high dollar is just killing us.
Jason Restagno from Lakesview Citrus said for the first time in many years, his packing shed had not sent a single navel to juice companies.
“I actually had to pay someone to take 120 bins away this morning to dump for cattle,” Mr Restagno said.
Other packing sheds are sending navels back to the growers as they come in.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and this is one of the hardest seasons I’ve seen,” Don Centofanti from Golden West Packing House said.
“There’s an oversupply of fruit so the major chains, which control 80 per cent of the market, are pushing hard on price.”
Clear Lake Citrus’ Pat Mancini, who is dumping about 30 tonnes of navels each week, said a lack of confidence in the consumer market was also driving down demand.
“People aren’t spending and when they go to the supermarket they’re buying just what they need and often cutting out fruit and veg,” Mr Mancini said.
That is a problem I hear about wherever I go throughout the Riverina—lack of confidence and people not spending.
Mr Mancini is right about shoppers tightening their belts. People getting their first power bills since 1 July are finding the Household Assistance Package does not do anywhere near enough to offset the carbon tax. But the fact they are forgoing fresh fruit and vegetables is a concern for a nation with farmers who happen to grow the best fruit and vegetables of anywhere in the world. Countries with far lower wage minimums than Australia and far less stringent spraying protocols are getting into our markets and dumping their produce via the back door and any door they can—all in the name of free trade. Fruit Juice Australia's chief executive officer Geoff Parker admits that cheap imports are hurting our farmers. I note that two of the key stakeholders taking part in widespread consultation over the past 12 months in relation to antidumping have been the Australian Food and Grocery Council and SPC Ardmona.
The bill before us legislates for three broad sets of improvements and represents the fourth and final tranche of a series of bills which Labor has introduced over the past year. Separate legislation, incorporating other changes, was previously introduced in August and November 2011 and March this year. Included in the bill are provisions which will lead to: the further amendment of a number of subsidies provisions and definitions in the act to align them more closely with relevant definitions and provisions in the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures; extension of the powers of Customs and the minister to address non-cooperation by any party during the investigation process; and introduction of new provisions relating to circumvention.
Essentially, these widen the options available to the minister to act against parties found to have dumped goods in Australia but who then also seek to disguise the level of their dumping activity in order to avoid paying the full amount of payable duties.
Principally, these provisions are aimed at more proactively tackling noncompliance and non-cooperation with antidumping inquiries and decisions. They will also reduce a number of the present inconsistencies in approach between Australia and other countries regarding these issues. The coalition has repeatedly stressed the importance of more closely aligning Australia's approach to antidumping to those of other jurisdictions.
Consequently, the changes in this bill can be considered sensible. In short, they will help to redress some of the in-built flaws in the current structure and operation of the system. However, more broadly, Labor is still baulking at a number of other changes to the present antidumping arrangements which we believe would genuinely strengthen the system.
The government has said, several times, it will increase staffing in the relevant branch of Customs by 14 to 45. These changes are, however, not based on extra financial investment in the system. Instead, they are predicated on the redeployment of resources from other areas of Customs, which is a breathtaking move given the current pressure on the agency as a result of the government's ever-increasing problems in the area of border protection. Hopefully, given the fact that today the government has adopted part of the coalition's Pacific solution, this might be lessened into the future. A genuine increase in the system's resourcing, as we have proposed through the coalition's antidumping policy, would pave the way for the use of better interpretations and evidence in prosecuting dumping cases. It would also provide wider scope for the application of preliminary affirmative determinations. Labor's changes have no overall financial impact. They are being funded through the redirection of expenditure from other areas of Customs.
Any measure which can improve antidumping legislation needs to be supported and, as a member of an electorate with hardworking people and long-suffering farmers who have suffered huge financial losses via foreign dumping over the years, I must support this bill. I commend it to the House.